Has too much early success left a gaping hole in the development of Eagles QB Carson Wentz?

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Carson Wentz is a remarkable talent, nobody is denying that. Last year, he put together one of the most explosive campaigns in recent memory before an MVP-caliber season was ripped from under his feet in week 14. The Eagles went on to win it all in incredible fashion and as Wentz returned to the fray, it was easy to forget that he was still entering his third year.

That last sentence really hit me like a bolt of lightning on Sunday evening when the Philadelphia Eagles were in the middle of choking away a 17 point lead. With 1:17 left on the clock, the pride of North Dakota State walked out onto the field with a chance to lift the Eagles to an important victory. A road-game in London to face the crumbling Jags and a home game agains the Cowboys before heading into the Bye? If the Birds’ could win the next three fixtures, this is a very different season.

What we saw in that final two drives was something so uncharacteristic from a quarterback that has been painted to be a cultural Super Hero. Wentz folded. Poor decisions that saw a wide open Wendell Smallwood ignored on a third-down late in the game, two poorly thrown passes that were very nearly intercepted and a loss despite driving into the red zone through a PI flag on Alshon Jeffery hang heavy.

This loss is not on the shoulders of Carson Wentz…at all. It would take some next-level ‘takery’ to insinuate a 17-point choke job was down to the quarterback on the winning team, however it did raise an interesting point. Has Carson Wentz ever led a game-winning drive?

The short answer is….no.

He set up the astonishing 61-yard field goal against the Giants one year ago with a stunning pass to Alshon Jeffery and if you can count the 2-pt conversion against the Rams after his ACL tear that makes two. Aside from that, the only other example that stands out is the loss to Baltimore in 2016 where the touchdown was scored, but the team were unable to convert a 2-point attempt.

This isn’t due to any fault of his own however, Wentz simply hasn’t been exposed to those kind of situations. If you think back to last season, the Eagles were winning by an average of two touchdowns per game. Wentz was able to let it rip, play confidently and comfortably knowing his defense would do the rest and sweep the floor clean. It gave him leverage and breathing room, just as the unit did against the Giants and in the first half of the loss to Carolina.

The problem is that when that safety cushion isn’t there, the quarterback has to put the team on his back and get it done and Wentz simply has not experienced that at all throughout his career. I went back to look at his North Dakota State game logs to see if the trend continued and well, would you believe it…

North Dakota State blew their opponents out of the water in most games and it’s no surprise that in both 2016 and 2018, games where the Eagles are averaging under 3.5 point win margins per game, Wentz has a 2/9 winning record when it comes to one possession games.

When you think of clutch quarterbacks, you think of Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers. Quarterbacks who traditionally, haven’t had the greatest defenses around them and often end up on the back foot with two minutes to go. It’s a unique situation and one any well-built team should be desperately trying to avoid.

The Eagles defense was so good in 2017, Wentz rarely had that moment where it was all-or-nothing and even this year, it’s been on the defense. The Colts were left stumbling at the final hurdle thanks to Derek Barnett, the defense folded against the Titans in what was one of the most ridiculous overtime displays I have ever seen and against the Vikings it was a similar story. You can trace that pattern deep into his career, it’s just not a situation Wentz has seen often and it’s understandably one that’s hard to predict emotionally.

Can you imagine walking out onto a field, knowing the fate of every single man in that locker room and the emotional outpour of a  sold out stadium that’s rooting for your success rests on your shoulders? Some are born with ice in their veins, others are molded by the fire. As of right now, Wentz has just been riding down the neutral line and that’s totally okay.

This article isn’t pointing the finger at Carson Wentz, it’s merely shining a light on the reason why in clutch situations, one of the league’s poster boys for electric play, dazzling footwork and cannon-like arm strength seems to lose that spark. It all comes down to experience.

There’s a reason why Andrew Luck has 17 game winning drives despite only being in the league since 2012. Think about it, that’s an ENTIRE season of game winning drives. Because the supporting cast around him has largely been unable to carry the load for four quarters, relying on the Stanford product to do it all himself and embrace that weight.

Wentz was blessed by being drafted into a situation where the team around him, for the most part, is extremely deep in terms of depth and has a huge upside. There were holes in 2016, but the plan was to build from the trenches outward and the team did that successfully. The downside to that is that as the Eagles coasted by in 2017, blowing out teams comfortably, that urgency was left in the dust. For Wentz, that’s unfortunately nothing new.

The positive here is that this season, Wentz has been exploited to more clinical situations than he has throughout his entire NFL career so far. It may take time, but the Eagles quarterback will only learn from these experiences and come back stronger.

If you’re training to be a Boxer, first time you get punched in the face will sting and burn for hours. But the more it happens, the more you get used to it, the easier handling that kind of pain becomes and you work out how to come back from it. Just like Rocky, Wentz has every hope of climbing those steps and coming through when it matters most.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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